Public Sector: A few months to save reputations

September is a key date in the calendar. It marks the end of the silly season. Now it is back to the serious business and local authorities are facing some of their biggest challenges ever. We can shape, make or break public service reputations by Christmas.

While there may be mixed messages over whether or not the country is finally emerging from recession, the huge budget deficit and increasing unemployment mean the economic climate will become tougher for the public sector.

Cutbacks are likely, and communicating to taxpayers about how you intend to maintain frontline services, while cutting costs and jobs, should form a central plank of our work.

Difficult decisions will have to be made and it is vital we explain and involve the communities we serve in these.

There are four critical themes for public service PR this September.

First, value for money should be the overarching theme of our comms, which means pushing these stories and being vigilant for potential silly stories of bungling over-zealous behaviour that detaches local authorities from the people they are meant to serve.

Second, all organisations need a narrative that resonates with the public. It is no good just conducting SOS (sending-out-stuff) comms, or just focusing on grand strategy. The narrative needs to tell and deliver a credible story, which real people can understand.

Third, it is vital the public sector forms partnerships to share the resources and expertise that will ultimately lead to the creation of, and delivery of, unified public services. Many councils are already working closer than ever with their local police and health trusts.

Finally, let us not forget we are also approaching party conference season. Organisations that want to influence the next party in power need to establish relationships and lines of communication with the politicians and policy makers of the future. There are testing times ahead and we will all need as many friends and allies we can muster.

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